Acrylic Nails | And My Experience

I’ve always struggled with thin, brittle nails. I’ve tried everything. Literally. Treatments. Professional services. Rubber gloves during dishes. You name it, I’ve probably tried it.
I even remember as a kid, painting my nails, waiting for that dreaded hour to ensure they were dry, only to have them chip the next day.

When I started working at a pharmaceuticals lab, I knew that I would need to figure out a solution to my brittle nails, as they were going to be in gloves all day. Which meant they would be damp for most of the day (if you’ve ever worn gloves day in, day out, you know that your hands can sweat like crazy). Slowly, I forgot about finding a solution to my nails and focused on work and life. And my nails kept breaking. To a point where it was painful. I would catch them on the tools at work (in gloves) and would bleed and have a split nail for 5 weeks until it slowly repaired itself.

Long story short, I tried acrylic nails and I love them! I had a rough start with them, mostly due to my inexperience, but listening to my nail technician and working with her to find the best solution made a big difference. I’ve had acrylic nails for just about a year now, and could not be happier. The cost is definitely something that I don’t love, but in the interest of keeping my hands and nails healthy, I think it’s a good investment!

In today’s post I wanted to share some information about acrylic nails because I know that when I went to look for information online, there was no source that really answered ALL of my questions in one place. So if you’ve ever wondered about acrylic nails, keep reading.

I always imagined acrylic nails would look like this: just a little too fake. Too large and generally tacky (although you may like this, if so, my apologies!)


So I was VERY adamant about what I wanted. A thin, natural looking nail. No square cuts. No tips. Not long enough to be tacky, but just enough to look lady-like. And that’s exactly what I got. I just had to ask.

Don’t be afraid to bring some photos of nails that you like, but remember, nail technicians are artists (especially those who do nail art) and may or may not want to copy the work of another artist. I usually consider things like shape, colour and length when I bring photos to my technician.

DO NOT be afraid to ask for the EXACT length and shape that you want. Your technician is there to provide a service, it’s up to you to share your wants with her/him. They are not mind readers. Tell them what you like and what you don’t.

I was curious about the process, so I’ve come up with some questions you might have if you’re considering having acrylic nails applied:

  • What is the process?
    • The technician will file the natural nail (with a Dremel tool, or by hand) which should NOT hurt at all. They will use a tip that looks like sandpaper but should have no teeth.
    • She will then begin applying the acrylic by dipping a brush (like a paintbrush) into a liquid (a monomer) and then picking up a bead of powder (the polymer). Together the monomer and polymer will form an acrylic- a gel like substance- that will be shaped to the nails and will harden over about 5 minutes. She will then file the nails down, buff them and apply polish. Both regular and gel polishes can be used.
  • Does it hurt?
    • No, there is no curing under a light (which can get hot!) but the chemical reaction might sting a the first/second time if nails are thin or have cracks
    • Additionally, the acrylic shrinks as it hardens, so the first application may be slightly stiff
  • How long does it take?
    • Generally every tech is different, but for a new set, starting on natural nails my tech takes about 60-75 minutes, and for a fill, she is about 45 minutes
  • Why does it smell so bad? It makes my eyes water!
    • The technician is using a product that she shouldn’t. If you’ve ever walked past a hole-in-the-wall mall salon that you could smell for miles, that is the number one sign that they are using low quality acrylic. From my experience, techs who are using quality product will have little to no smell in their salon (other than basic acetone, nail polish and light chemical smells). Let’s put it this way, the smell should not HIT you in the face when you walk in!
  • What is the difference between gel and acrylic?
    • It’s important to first explain the difference between gel nails and gel colour. The terms are often used interchangeably, but are not the same.
      • Gel Nails: are fake nails. A technician will apply a gel to your natural nails, shape it and cure the product under a light. This gel may or may not be coloured. The gel come in a pot and does not have to be mixed prior to use. It must be cured under a light and is generally file-off only (not soak off).
      • Gel Colour: is also called Shellac (which is simply a brand name, like Advil vs ibuprofen). This is a colour that can be applied directly to natural nails. It is cured under a light and is often a soak off product. This is a coloured product and cannot provide shape to the nails or extend the natural nail.
    • Acrylic is a two part system (liquid and powder) that can be used to shape and extend the natural nail. It can be coloured or natural. It is matte until filed and is often painted with regular polish or gel polish.

If you are interested in seeing the process before you book an appointment, I would HIGHLY suggest you check out Suzie’s YouTube channel: Nail Career Education. Her channel is full of resources, videos and fantastic information for both nail technicians AND clients!

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